Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, a former U.S. Army reservist with an affinity for dressing up like Adolph Hitler and spewing white supremacist rhetoric, was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday. He will also serve three years of supervised release.
The sentence was doled out by U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden in Washington, D.C. According to NBC News reporter Ryan Reilly, at the hearing Thursday, the Jan. 6 defendant from New Jersey told the court that he had “disgraced his uniform and I disgraced my country.”
At trial, Hale-Cusanelli insisted he was innocent of all charges, and when he took to the stand, he told jurors that while it may “sound idiotic,” he did not know on Jan. 6 that Congress met inside the U.S. Capitol.
“But I’m from New Jersey,” he quipped.
That didn’t earn him much sympathy. Jurors found Hale-Cusanelli guilty in May of felony obstruction of an official proceeding on Jan. 6, plus entering a restricted building, disruptive conduct in a restricted building, and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building. Prosecutors initially sought a sentence of 6.5 years.
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The suggestion that he was ignorant of where Congress convened was not credible, McFadden found. Prosecutors had stressed this at trial, showing reams of evidence where Hale-Cusanelli had explained wonky presidential election procedure to his friends or expounded on historical events.
His testimony on the stand was untruthful and “self-serving” only, prosecutors lamented.
According to NBC, McFadden said that testimony amounted to a “risible lie.”
On Monday, Hale-Cusanelli failed to convince Judge McFadden that he should be acquitted or have a completely new trial. The Trump-appointed judge denied the request on multiple grounds. Chief among those claims from the alleged white supremacist was his argument that he could not have obstructed certification on Jan. 6 because, by the time he was inside the Capitol, the ceremony was no longer ongoing.
“This argument is at best self-refuting,” McFadden wrote in the Sept. 19 order.
Hale-Cusanelli argued a new trial was warranted as well because he was unfairly prejudiced when portions of his own “overly racist, misogynistic or antisemitic” opinions were cited by prosecutors to jurors.
McFadden actually barred prosecutors from including a large number of Hale-Cusanelli’s overtly racist and extremist remarks, suggesting most of them might otherwise inflame jurors or keep them from focusing primarily on the charges the defendant actually faced.
In denying the motion for a new trial, the judge said that federal prosecutors only presented evidence that bridged his overtly racist comments with less overt ones because those remarks still showed Hale-Cusanelli’s motivation to stop Congress from counting the certified electoral slates “either because he wanted a civil war or thought [Joe Biden] was a puppet for Jewish interests.”
At a recent rally in Pennsylvania, former President Donald Trump gave Hale-Cusanelli’s adopted aunt, Cynthia Hughes, time to speak about her Hitler-mustachioed familiar.
“He dressed in a suit and tie and his favorite hat. Tim wanted to take part in what he thought was going to be a historical event. Instead, he witnessed a horror show,” Hughes told a crowd of Trump’s supporters.
Investigators interviewed 34 of Hale-Cusanelli’s coworkers and found many said he openly avowed his extreme views. Others were scared of him, they said.
Hughes has been a prominent fundraiser for Jan. 6 defendants and has ingratiated herself to Trump and other extremists like Steve Bannon who has called her a “great patriot” for helping Jan. 6 “political prisoners.” She is the founder of the non-profit Patriot Freedom Project.
Meanwhile, not far from where Hale-Cusanelli was sentenced before U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, in the courtroom of Senior U.S. District Judge John Bates, another Jan. 6 defendant, Stephen Ayres, learned of his fate.
Ayres, an Ohio resident, originally faced a four-count indictment for crimes tied to the Capitol attack, including obstruction of an official proceeding, entering a restricted area, and two disorderly conduct charges.
He was initially indicted alongside Matthew Perna of Pennsylvania. Perna died by suicide on Feb. 25. In an obituary written by Perna’s family, they said he died “of a broken heart” and that the “justice system killed his spirit and zest for life.”
Before Ayres ultimately struck a plea bargain with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, he faced 22 years for all four counts.
He ended up cooperating with the Jan. 6 committee and offering testimony during a public hearing this summer.
“I was hanging on every word [Trump] was saying. Everything he was putting out, I was following it,” Ayres testified.
Without any prior criminal convictions, and with his acknowledgment of guilt, plus good behavior in the 18 months he has spent released on bail, Judge Bates handed down a light sentence.
Ayres was sentenced to 24 months of supervised probation and will be required to perform 100 hours of community service. Prosecutors had requested a sentence of 60 days in prison for the single disorderly conduct charge. Though Judge Bates took pains Thursday to acknowledge the “shocking attack” of Jan. 6 and its long-term consequences and impact, he was unconvinced the 60-day sentence was warranted for Ayres.
The Warren, Ohio, man was inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 for 10 minutes, and only walked in halls of the Capitol, and he did not enter “more sensitive areas,” Bates said Thursday. He did not destroy property once inside, and he had no direct role in causing the breach.
Calling him an “active participant in the attack at the Capitol,” the senior judge underlined that a mob only forms when there is “participation by a large number of people.”
“That’s what created the mob we saw on Jan. 6,” he said. “This is a case of serious misconduct warranting a serious response from the United States.”
When given a chance to speak for himself on Thursday before the ruling, Ayres became emotional.
“I want to apologize to you and the court and the American people,” he said, audibly crying for the remote court appearance. “I went down there that day not with the intention to cause any violence.”
Ayres said he got “caught up” in the right-wing rhetoric and disinformation flowing out of platforms like Facebook.
Before the insurrection at the Capitol, Ayres posted statements on social media accusing former Vice President Mike Pence, Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, and other officials of treason for failing to certify former President Donald Trump’s fake electors.
When he left his home in Ohio on Jan. 5 and headed for Washington, D.C., prosecutors say he issued a call online to fellow Trump supporters to go to the Stop the Steal rally. His rhetoric was often heated or laden with language about a civil war being necessary if Trump was not made the victor.
In truth, Trump lost the election handily to now-President Joe Biden, and by the time of the insurrection, the former president had lost dozens of lawsuits alleging fraud quite publicly.
“Time for us to start standing up to tyranny!" Ayres wrote in one message before the attack.
"If the [deep state] robs president Trump!!! Civil War will ensue!" he said in another, court records show. [punctuation original]
A day after the insurrection, Ayres posted a video on YouTube with Perna and another unidentified person. Ayres called the Jan. 6 attack “staged” in the video and suggested that it was members of the anti-fascist or “antifa” movement that had provoked police and led the charge.
This echoed the disinformation peddled by the former president and his supporters in Congress. The FBI determined last year that there was no proof “antifa” stormed the Capitol or posed as supporters of the former president.
When Ayres testified before the Jan. 6 committee, prosecutors said they felt he was not remorseful enough and described his response to committee vicechair Liz Cheney as “lukewarm” when she pressed him about whether he believed the 2020 election was still stolen.
On Thursday, Ayres told the judge through tears that his decisions on Jan. 6 and those leading up to it destroyed his life. He lost a good friend, and he lost his job. He embarrassed his family and himself, he said.
“I’m over the division in the country,” Ayres said. “I wake up every day and pray for officers who are [still] struggling with Jan. 6.”
In court, he extended apologies to law enforcement, their family members, and to those who lost someone on Jan. 6.
Five people died as a result of the attack; hundreds were badly injured.
“I wish everybody in this country could stop and see where it's going. This country is supposed to be the light of the world, a beacon of hope, and they see this stuff on TV… it embarrasses me,” he said.
Ayres’ wife also spoke on his behalf, telling the judge that their children never had to feel the burden of their father’s decisions on Jan. 6 because he had spent the entirety of his time after his arrest on good behavior and working to rectify himself.
If Ayres were put in jail now, their children would feel that burden, she said.
“When we got married, we promised never to expose our children to a broken home,” she said, crying. “If my husband goes to jail, it will break that vow.”
She also apologized on behalf of her husband.
With the remaining counts against him dismissed, Judge Bates wished Ayres well and told him he must be “observant and compliant” with the terms of his 24-month probationary sentence. But before Ayres was let go, the judge offered a final thought: He agreed with him—what Ayres did was “shameful, embarrassing and left a stain” on our nation’s democratic institutions.